Tag Archives: shoulder pain

Wood Work

Spring is here again. I know this not just from the calendar, the change in temperature, the blossoms on trees, lambs frolicking and all that. I know it from my bodymind.

To start with, I feel an irresistible urge to tend to my compost pile which has been languishing, cold and stagnant over winter. Yesterday I dug out tools from the shed and turned it all over into the sunshine to dry out and aerate. Getting into the mood, I weeded and fertilised the peas and garlic. Before long I’d lost track of time as I cheerfully tended to tasks I’d been shirking all winter. What was happening? Spring’s Wood energy was rising up my body, fuelling action.

Another way I know it’s spring is that my liver and gall bladder are talking to me again. I feel a slight pressure in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, my liver reminding me that I ate too much gluten and dairy when I travelled interstate last week. Chiming in is gall bladder, giving the occasional squeak as it squirts bile into the duodenum. These are the organs of Wood which can manifest symptoms when this Element isn’t balanced. For someone of a Wood constitution like me, these organs are particularly susceptible. They are a source of information for monitoring my health.

At a recent course I taught, one of the students was having a challenging time around these organs. During several treatments, he experienced a strong vibrating sensation in the upper right quadrant which we tracked to the acupoint Liver 13. This is the alarm point for Spleen but it also reflects the Liver itself. The student revealed that he was going through a significant stage, one requiring a pivotal decision about the fundamental direction of his work life. He also noticed that working on Liver points on another person triggered these same sensations in his own body. And when it came time to make a firm decision in the days after the course, the sensations became extreme.

The capacities of planning and decision making are the province of the Liver and Gall Bladder Officials respectively. This person’s physical symptoms were reflecting what was happening at the psycho-emotional level. And all of this was arising in the springtime when Wood energy is at its highest. There is a long tide which moves around the Five Element Cycle over the course of a year, the high tide passing through the corresponding Element of the season and pushing up against anything that isn’t harmonised. Like a high tide that strains boats whose anchors are too tightly set.

There are a number of other signals that can indicate that Wood is out of balance. These derive from the resonances of the Element. The following table shows some of these resonances of the Wood Element.

Season Spring
Climate Wind
Colour Green
Sound Shouting
Odour Rancid
Emotion Anger
Taste Sour
Sense Vision
Sense Organ Eyes
Yin Organ Liver
Yang Organ Gall Bladder
Tissue Tendons/Ligaments

These resonances are vibrations. For example, spring is the Wood Element vibrating as a season while anger is Wood vibrating as an emotion. When our Wood is out of balance, we may find that our bodymind shows the imbalance through these resonances. Here are some ways this might be revealed:

• Getting sick at the start of spring
• A strong dislike of wind
• Feelings of irritability or outbursts of anger
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Difficulty making plans
• Difficulty making decisions
• Aversion to or craving for sour foods
• Visual disturbances or other eye problems
• Easily nauseated by fatty food
• Congestion in the upper right of the abdomen
• Headaches, especially at the back of the head
• Neck and shoulder stiffness or pain
• Hip and outer leg pain
• Tight tendons
• Stiff joints
• Restlessness, can’t keep still

If you find that you have several of these conditions, your bodymind may be showing you that Wood is calling for attention. These symptoms can appear at any time, but they are more likely to show up in spring when the high tide of the Wood phase pushes up against things that are out of balance. The good news is that by addressing them in the spring, you will have the support of the ambient energy of nature. Here are some ways to work with your Wood.

Add more green foods to your diet: kale and other leafy greens, broccoli, peas and so on. The darker green the better. Eat more foods that are sour in taste: lemon, lime, grapefruit, sauerkraut and other fermented food.

Detoxify. The liver is responsible for cleansing the body of toxins. Doing a liver cleanse by eating simple foods and taking cleansing herbs will be well supported in the springtime. If you’ve been thinking of doing a gall bladder flush, then spring is the best time to do it.

Move. Wood likes to move so get plenty of movement. Walk, hike, run, jump, skip, ride, row, garden, build… whatever makes you feel good in your body. Make sure to stretch before leaping into action.

Shout! Sometimes when Wood is stuck, movement is not enough to dislodge the congestion. Shouting can discharge the energy that has been suppressed. Shout into the wind or in your car on the freeway. Don’t shout at others.

Explore your anger. Most of us learn from an early age that anger is a bad thing because it hurts others. But suppressed anger becomes stored in the body, specifically in the liver, and then starts to hurt us. Anger is seen as bad because it is equated with violence. But anger is not violence. It is the frustration that can arise from operating in a world of limits and boundaries. Try to understand why you are angry. Feel that anger without suppressing it and without venting it. The energy that you get in touch with can be powerful fuel for action.

Hold some acupressure points. Any points that relate to the Liver (LV) and Gall Bladder (GB) will be useful and are more powerful at this time of year. Here are links to some good points discussed in previous blogs:

Acupoint Some Uses
LV 1 Calms restlessness, agitation. The Wood point, it deeply supports the Element.
LV 3 Treats allergies, fatigue, nausea, eyes, irritability. Supports immune system.
LV 13 Promotes smooth flow of Liver Qi, relieves abdominal distension.
LV 14 For vomiting, rib pain, depression, hopelessness.
GB 1 Treats eye pain, migraines, lack of clarity.
GB 15 Treats headache, eye pain, confusion, lack of perspective. Eliminates wind.
GB 20 Treats headache, neck pain, irritability. Eliminates wind.
GB 21 Treats anxiety, irritability, hypertension, headaches, shoulder stiffness.
GB 30 For lower back and hip problems, sciatica, stiff joints, irritability, frustration.
GB 34 Master point for tendons and ligaments. Timidity, headache, hypertension.
GB 41 Relieves headache, sciatica, frustration, indecision.
BL 47 Supports psycho-emotional and spiritual aspects of Wood.
GV 16 Eliminates wind, treats headache, stiff neck, colds and flu, fever.

And finally, use the uprising energy of the Wood season to make plans for the future. See where you are going, map out your path, plan the stages of the journey, decide how to get there and take the first step. Your inner Wood will provide you with the gifts of imagination, creativity, vision, wise judgement, and motivation to help you on your path.

Go boldly!

For more suggestions on working with your Wood, see that chapter of my book
The Way of the Five Seasons.

Pulling the Plugs

The other day a friend of mine was experiencing a pressure headache on the top and back of the head. I suspected a backup of Qi in the Gall Bladder meridian so I held the exit point of that meridian (GB 41) but it had no effect. So I moved to the exit point of Bladder meridian (BL 67) and within two minutes the pressure and ache had gone from the head.

This gave me the idea of writing a blog about the exit points of the three yang meridians of the leg, what I call the bath plug points. When any of these points is blocked, Qi can back up along the channel all the way to the head and face, producing symptoms of pressure, fullness, congestion or pain. It is good to keep these points in mind as they can effect major improvements in health with little work.

The three yang meridians of the leg are Gall Bladder, Bladder and Stomach. They all begin on the face and wend their ways down the body to the feet, Gall Bladder down the sides of the body, Bladder down the back of the body, and Stomach down the front. These three are the longest of all the primary organ meridians and contain the most points. (Gall Bladder has 44 points, Bladder 67 and Stomach 45.) That means that over half of the acupoints of the primary meridians lie on these three yang meridians of the leg. Lots of places for blocks to occur.

Let’s look at each of these meridians in turn to see what kinds of conditions can arise when their bath plugs become stuck.

Gall Bladder 41 ~ Zulinqi ~ Foot Above Tears

This point is one of my favourites, and one that I use frequently, because our busy, demanding, stressful world can put a lot of pressure on the Gall Bladder official who is responsible for making decisions and taking action.

You can find a fuller exploration of this point in a previous blog. Here I will focus on its role as an exit point. Entry and exit points are not a part of the TCM teaching but are a significant part of the Five Element tradition. Blocks at points where Qi enters or leaves the meridian can become impediments to treatment progressing.

When GB 41 is blocked, Qi can back up along the length of the meridian, producing symptoms in the sides of the legs, hips, the sides of the ribcage, shoulders, neck, head and eyes. One of the more common conditions associated with this block is occipital and frontal headache, sometimes with pain behind the eyes and/or visual distortions.

I once treated a 50 year old client, a busy businessman, who experienced ongoing headaches, almost every day since he was a teenager. I held Foot Above Tears on both feet and could feel a tremendous congestion there. He felt nothing at all for a couple of minutes, then suddenly he practically jumped off the table as the pressure broke through the crust and he felt the pain of the points. I then continued with steady pressure for several more minutes until he no longer felt the sensation. His headache had cleared.

I didn’t see him again for a couple of months. I assumed the treatment had not worked. But when he returned, he assured me that it had and that he had been headache free for those months, and was returning because the headaches were just starting to come back. This was a significant outcome from one treatment and shows the power of this point when used at the right time

This point can also be useful when frustrations or the burdens of responsibility cause a build up of pressure in the neck and shoulders. If you press into the top of someone’s shoulders (GB 21) and there is a lot of tension, you may find that holding GB 41 will help that tension to soften and descend down the body.

Location of Gall Bladder 41

At the junction of the fourth and fifth metatarsals. Draw up between the fourth and fifth toes, cross over the tendon, and drop into the hollow between these bones where they meet.

 

 

Bladder 67 ~ Zhiyin ~ Reaching Yin

The Bladder pathway reaches the end of its long and circuitous journey down the body at BL 67 at the corner of the little toenail. As with the other exit points of the yang meridians of the leg, if this point becomes blocked, Qi can back up along the pathway which in this case includes the calves, hamstrings, hips, sacrum, back, neck, top of the head and eyes.

BL 67’s capacity to cause Qi to descend is seen in its role in promoting labour, and its particular effect of turning a baby which is in breech position. While the point is great for a woman about to give birth, it should be avoided during the earlier stages of pregnancy. We don’t want to take that plug out too soon. After the birth, this point can also help persuade the placenta to release.

As shown in the recent case of my friend, described above, when there is headache on the top (vertex) or the back (occipital) of the head, or in the neck at the upper cervical vertebrae, this point can be useful in descending that congested Qi.

The Bladder channel begins at the inner corner of the eye, just above the tear duct. When Qi is blocked here it can result in pain in the eyes, dry eyes, redness or blurred vision, an inability to make tears, or alternatively, too much tearing. The exit point at the opposite end of the meridian, Reaching Yin, can be treated to pull the Qi down the meridian.

Location of Bladder 67

On the outside corner of the nailbed of the little toe. Draw a line from the lateral border of the nail, and another from the base of the nail. The point is where these lines meet.

 

 

Stomach 42 ~ Chongyang ~ Rushing Yang

The Stomach meridian starts just under the eye in the soft tissue below the lower eyelid. It travels down through the cheeks and jaw, takes a brief side trip into the temple, continues on through the throat, and down through the breasts, the abdomen and along the front of the legs and shins, reaching the exit point at Stomach 42.

When this point becomes blocked, it can cause symptoms of pain or discomfort in any of these areas. When a person has pain in the cheeks or jaw, or there is congestion in the throat, I will check if there is a block in Stomach 42.

A block at Chongyang is often associated not only with physical symptoms in the head and throat, but also with the psycho-emotional condition of worry or over-thinking. One of the responsibilities of the Earth Element (in particular the Spleen) is the proper functioning of mental processes. When we think too much, if worry a lot, if the mind goes round and round the same issue, or even if we are doing a lot of study or other concentration, this energy can get stuck in the head. Stomach 42 can come to the rescue.

One of the functions of the Stomach Official is to receive. This is known as Stomach Receiving. The receiving of food is an obvious role, but it also is responsible for receiiving other kinds of things such as love, praise, admiration, compliments and help. People who have difficulty letting such things in or have a tendency to push away or reject these things from others, may develop a block in the Stomach receiving. Stomach 42 should be checked.

Location of Stomach 42

On the top of the foot, in a shallow hollow 1.5 cun (2 fingers width) from the ankle crease. Alternatively, draw up between the second and third toes until you fall into the hollow.

 

 

Method of Treatment

When treating these points, begin by holding both points with steady, moderate pressure for two or three minutes. A block could show itself as a feeling of fullness, like a whirlpool of congested Qi; or it could manifest as a feeling of deadness or complete absence which breaks through after a while, as described in the GB 41 case above. With sustained pressure, either of these extremes will begin to come back to centre, the Qi feeling like a comfortable presence under your fingers. For deeper work, hold the points one at a time, beginning with the left side, until you feel the bath plug pop out.

Neck Problems Sorted

Tianchuang – Heavenly Window – Small Intestine 16

neck problemI am currently rewriting the manual for my Five Element Acupressure courses. In doing so, I am making a change to one of the points in the palette of 50 points introduced in Level 1. For over 30 years I have been practising and teaching the basic neck release which I learned in the first acupressure class I took in 1985. One of these points, known as the Extra Neck Point, is not a meridian point, and serves as a kind of surrogate for the many other meridian points in the neck. The change I am making is to replace the extra neck point with the meridian point that is anatomically closest to it. This is Small Intestine 16, Tianchuang (Heavenly Window).

The Small Intestine meridian is the go-to meridian for neck and shoulder pain, so it is appropriate to choose the SI point in the middle of the neck. It fits well with two other SI points of the neck and shoulders release, SI 10 and SI 11. It treats neck pain, shoulder pain which radiates to the neck, and stiffness of the neck which causes difficulty in turning the head to the side. Also at the physical level, Tianchuang treats throat pain, loss of voice, lockjaw, deafness, tinnitus and ear pain.

This point is also important as one of the category of points known as the Windows of the Sky, or Windows of Heaven. (The tian part of the name means heaven.) Modern TCM texts tend to prescribe these points to clear congestion in the sense organs, interpreting tian as a reference to the head, rather than anything mystical or spiritual; and disorders where the Qi of the head is in disharmony with the Qi of the body.

Five Element practitioners have come to regard these Windows of Heaven points as also having a deeper psyhoemotional, or even psychospiritual effect. When a person has lost connection to True Nature, that which transcends the body and the small self, then these points are called for. By ‘opening the window’, the client is supported to see beyond the obscurations that have clouded his view. Each Window point is used in the context of the issues of its corresponding official. The primary function of the Small Intestine official, the Sorter, is to sort the pure from the impure. The small intestine organ itself sorts the nutrition from the waste of the food we eat. At a higher level, if we are unable to sort out what is good for us at emotional, psychological and spiritual levels, then Tianchuang can help. Ultimately, the Sorter’s role is to protect the Heart, Emperor of the kingdom. A healthy Sorter knows what is good for us and can therefore be let into the inner sanctum, and what is not good for us and needs to be kept out.

Location of Small Intestine 16

SI 16

 

At the back border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, at the level of the laryngeal prominence (Adam’s apple). If you turn your head to the left against resistance, the muscle on the right side of the neck becomes prominent.